Jess Whitson, M.D.
While many serious medical conditions announce themselves with telltale symptoms of discomfort and pain, others, like open-angle glaucoma, do not.
“We call glaucoma a ‘silent thief,’ because by the time a patient experiences peripheral vision loss, it’s too late; the damage is done,” says Jess T. Whitson, M.D., a Professor in the Department of Ophthalmology at UT Southwestern Medical Center.
Using less invasive laser and surgical techniques, as well as newer and better tolerated medications, we can tailor glaucoma treatment for our patients, based on their needs and risk profile.”
Ocular hypertension, the increase in intraocular pressure on the optic nerve, is the culprit behind glaucoma, the world’s second-leading cause of blindness behind cataracts. Early detection with regular eye exams is important, says Dr. Whitson, who, as lead investigator in several clinical trials, has helped usher in improved treatments for the disease since he joined the Department of Ophthalmology in 1993.
“Since I’ve been in practice, ophthalmology has made tremendous strides in understanding the nature of glaucoma, including risk factors, monitoring, and surgical and nonsurgical treatments,” says Dr. Whitson. African Americans, for example, are more than twice as likely than non-Hispanic whites to develop the disease. Other risk factors include age (50 years and older; 40 years and older if African-American or Hispanic); a history of serious eye injury; use of steroidal medications; having diabetes; being near-sighted; and having abnormally high or low blood pressure.
Assessing a patient’s individual risk profile “helps us customize treatment options, which can include the use of pressure-reducing eye drops, laser trabeculoplasty and/or surgery,” says Dr. Whitson.
Tracking glaucoma’s progress during follow-up appointments with an ophthalmologist is crucial and further influences treatment options for patients. Tests and procedures that monitor vision loss and damage to the optic nerve include optical coherence tomography (OCT), confocal scanning laser ophthalmoscopy, and computerized perimetry are all available at UT Southwestern.
“I want to make sure my glaucoma patients’ quality of life is not diminished by this chronic disease, an idea I try to instill in the ophthalmology residents and glaucoma fellows I teach. There’s no other place I’d rather be to accomplish this than UT Southwestern,” Dr. Whitson says.